23 May 2018
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Abigail P. Johnson, MBA 1988

2018 Alumni Achievement Award Recipient
by Susan Young

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Chairman and CEO, Fidelity Management and Research LLC

The summer before college, Abby Johnson worked in the “wire room” at the family business, Fidelity Investments. She took calls from customers, wrote down account numbers, verified the information on a mainframe computer, and made the requested transactions. Playing a small role in the front lines of money management was the perfect introduction for her career leading one of the nation’s top investment firms.

“It is important to figure out how to balance long-standing traditions with new insights in order to make room for innovation.”
“It is important to figure out how to balance long-standing traditions with new insights in order to make room for innovation.”

Growing up in Boston as the eldest of three children, Johnson enjoyed figure skating and skiing, and she had a sharp focus on academics. She attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges, majoring in art history, a subject that helped her “look at things from many different angles,” she says. “My father was interested in technology and impressed upon me how important it was to business,” adds Johnson, whose expertise in the field extends to online investment guidance and cryptocurrency.

Upon earning her BA, Johnson moved to New York and worked as a research associate at Booz Allen Hamilton. The experience influenced the rest of her life. She met Chris McKown, her future husband, and, impressed by the HBS alumni she encountered (including McKown), she decided to apply to the MBA Program. Earning an MBA was exactly what she’d hoped it would be: “HBS was more important preparation for the role that I’m in now than I possibly could have appreciated at the time.”

The fact that Fidelity was founded by her grandfather and run by her father did not mean that Johnson didn’t have to pay her dues to work at the company. As an equity analyst summer intern, she and her cohort pulled all-nighters before industry reviews. That experience solidified her interest in working at the firm. “I got the stock-picking bug,” she says. “I enjoyed the intellectual challenge, and I liked interacting with the fund managers.”

Johnson joined the research department of the equity group and spent five years as an analyst before moving into diversified fund management. “Abby has a unique ability to balance strategic long-term thinking with attention to detail,” says Will Danoff, portfolio manager of Fidelity’s Contrafund. After nine years managing money, she was ready to try a new challenge: managing people. Her success there led her to become president of the Asset Management division.

As her career progressed—while simultaneously raising two daughters—Johnson conquered every challenge that came her way and methodically set about transforming the company. In 2014 she was appointed CEO and in 2016, she took on the role of chairman. Her stellar track record includes streamlining the technology infrastructure and focusing on customer service, innovation, and cross-company collaboration. “We are in the midst of a major transition that takes advantage of technology to deliver better service,” she says.

Fidelity today fully reflects Johnson’s laser focus and quiet, authoritative leadership style. “Abby is not showy,” says Kathy Murphy, the firm’s president of Personal Investing. “She is hardworking, grounded, passionate, and her values come through. She sets a tremendous example.” That example is evident in Johnson’s commitment to ensuring that Fidelity remains a great place to work. “Our business is serving a much more diverse population than in prior generations. Our workforce needs to reflect that,” says Johnson, who quietly directs her personal and corporate philanthropy to cultural, educational, and youth enrichment programs in the Boston area as well as in the communities across the country where Fidelity has regional offices.

Proud of the work that Fidelity does—“enabling people to improve their financial lives,” as she describes it—Johnson cherishes letters she and her employees receive from happy customers. To do her job, she notes, “You have to be a worrier. Every business has risks, and companies that feel comfortable are probably not paying enough attention,” she says. As someone skilled at balancing accolades and apprehension, Abby Johnson seems to be in just the right place.

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TIMELINE
1961 Born, Boston, Massachusetts
1984 Earns BA, Art History, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
1985 Joins Booz Allen Hamilton, Research Associate
1988 Earns MBA
1988 Joins Fidelity, Equity Analyst
1994 Named Associate Director, Fidelity
1998 Named SVP, Fidelity Management and Research LLC (FMR)
2001 Named President, Fidelity Asset Management
2007 Named President, Fidelity Personal and Workplace Investing
2012 Named President, Fidelity Financial Services
2013 Named President, FMR
2014 Named CEO, FMR
2016 Named Chairman, FMR
2018 Fidelity serves 27 million individual customers

Photo by Susan Young

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1988, Section D

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